At the end of November 2008, the world of which I am a part, became riveted by the events in Mumbai. A series of attacks occurred in South Mumbai – in the famous Chhatrapati Shivaji Rail Terminal, in two hotels – the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, and the Oberoi Trident, in a Jewish centre – Nariman House, the Cama hospital and in the Leopold Café, among others. But it is the ongoing nature of the attack on the plush Taj Tower that captivated the media. The visual spectacle of the destruction of a Victorian building, where many foreign tourists lived and where many of the world’s famous designer outlets were located, evoked a world of past and present wealth, in threat, under attack.
The stories of Mumbai were widely covered by the world press. And there have been a range of commentators on various aspects of the coverage of the attacks, especially, the media focus on Taj, rather than the many other sites where ordinary people lost their lives. As Arundhati Roy remarked, the lives of some seemed to matter more than that of others.
People in Gangtok light candles in memory of the Mumbai victims
However, what I want to remark on here is the way in which the pictures of 26/11 and the analysis then circulated through the media. One evening an Indian friend sent me a link to a set of television programmes on a Pakistani TV channel that claimed that 26/11 was indeed India’s 9/11.
The programmes said that just as the US had perpetrated the attacks on the World Trade Centre in order to justify attacking Iraq and Afghanistan, so too had India masterminded the attacks in Mumbai in order to kill the chief of the anti-terrorism squad, Hemant Karkare, who was due to pronounce that a Hindu-led political group was behind one of the bomb blasts earlier in India. However, the anchor and the guests on this channel claimed, the Indians were unable to conduct this home-made terrorism with the panache that the Americans had conducted 9/11.
I was not the only recipient of this link – it circulated widely on a range of email groups, was shown on Indian television and became a frequently discussed topic within the diasporic community. The large number of hits on its youtube page bear witness to its circulation.
It also provoked a range of responses from those who read it, particularly a degree of disbelief and anger at the stand taken in the programme. It led to familiar calls to stop the appeasement of Muslims in India, and of Pakistan more generally. A few people argued, as Roy has, that terrorism has its routes in past injustices, and economic deprivation, not (only?) religion or regional affiliation.
Yet, it also provoked in me questions of how to deal with this text that I was sent – do I delete the link, share it with our Pakistani friends, share it with our Indian friends, ignore it? The hour-long programme was clearly inflammatory, defamatory, but also thought-provoking about the possibilities of alliances, different interpretations, viewpoints. These questions of communication and of our responsibilities about what to say, when and to whom continue to haunt me as the airwaves abound with sympathy and solidarity with those who were killed in the attacks and more problematically with critique and counter-critique which masquerades as analysis of the attacks. These questions of mediation, of the multiple roles that the media play, what gets reported, how these reports then take on their own life, are re-reported, analysed and become the material for new rounds of angst is the stuff of our lives. This blog is another, and hopefully, a reflexive part of that stuff.